How to Create Inclusive Environments for Black Students on Predominantly White College Campuses

Predominantly white institutions of higher education in the United States routinely point to rising enrollments of students of color as evidence of their commitment to racial diversity and inclusion. Indeed, from 1996 to 2012, college enrollments of minority students have increased exponentially. Across all types of institutions, the percentage of white college students enrolled in the United States fell from 84 percent in 1976 to 58 percent in 2015.

Even so, Black enrollments in selective colleges and universities have remained consistently low for the past two decades. Regardless of shifting percentages, however, enrollment numbers are poor metrics for inclusivity. They say very little about the social integration of Black students once they arrive on predominantly white college campuses.

Inclusivity depends on more than enrollment rates, it is about enrolled students coming to feel that they really belong in campus communities where they are valued and accepted. The prevalence of anti-Black incidents and the growing presence of white supremacist groups on college campuses suggest that America has not achieved true inclusivity for Black college students — and may be losing ground in some places.

The U.S. Department of Education reports that the number of reported campus hate crimes increased by 25 percent from 2015 to 2016, right after the election of Donald Trump. Further, there have been high profile media reports of white students or college staff people who call the police on Black students and staff for engaging in routine activities such as sleeping in a residence hall common area or eating lunch on campus.

Predominantly white institutions can cultivate more inclusive environments for Black students by moving beyond just numerical diversity. They should focus instead on subtle dynamics of campus exclusion, and the extent to which students feel they belong and are well mentored and supported.

Mechanisms of Anti-Black Exclusion on Predominantly White Campuses

Sociological research points to discriminatory dynamics for Black students on predominantly white campuses:

Segregated white socialization. Anti-Black prejudice in the United States has long been reinforced by racially segregated neighborhoods, schools, and churches that make it possible for white students to arrive on college campuses without ever having interacted meaningfully with Black peers. With academic tracking, many white students can also be educated in predominantly white classrooms even in racially diverse public schools. As a result, many white students and faculty arrive on college campuses holding unchallenged racist myths and misconceptions about Black people.

Hostile racial climates. Scholars find that a hostile racial climate leads to feelings of marginalization and isolation that harm achievement and retention for minority students. Greater numbers of minority enrollees do not necessarily lead to cross-racial interactions, or necessarily challenge dominant racial ideologies and master narratives. Black students experience hostile campus climates through everyday racial slights and the failure of faculty and administrators at historically white institutions to enact policies to counter racial and ethnic harassment.

Assumptions flowing from college admissions policies. College admissions policies can contribute to the marginalization of Black students by creating presumptions that many of them may be less meritorious than their white and Asian peers. The Black–white SAT test score gap feeds into racist notions of Black intellectual inferiority and informs false narratives of affirmative action programs as discriminatory towards white and Asian applicants. Yet research confirms that GPAs are a better predictor of college performance than SAT scores; and many test scores have been found to rest on racially biased assumptions. Apart from assumptions spread by admissions rules, recent scholarship also suggests that some admissions officers discriminate against prospective Black students who are oriented towards social justice.

How to Fight Black Exclusion on College Campuses

Providing supportive and inclusive spaces for Black students is particularly important in the current social context. The following are suggestions that can be used by predominantly white institutions.

  • Develop new metrics for success. Stop using only numeral diversity in admissions or graduation rates as the primary metrics for progress. Instead, focus as well on measuring the racial climate on campus and student feelings of belonging and attachment to the institution.

  • Train people in how to discuss racial issues. Provide professional training for faculty on how to lead effective conversations about racism in their classrooms and as advisors. Provide similar training to administrators, staff, and student leaders.

  • Establish both safe spaces and brave spaces: Recognize that Black students need safe spaces on predominantly white campuses where they can have a reprieve from anti-Black racism. Simultaneously, create cross-racial “brave spaces” for all students to develop authentic and sustained interracial interactions, while providing them with tools and support to do so effectively.

  • Spread anti-racist narratives: Find multiple ways to counter harmful anti-Black stereotypes. For example, Test Optional College Admissions policies are already being used at many of the most competitive schools in the United States. And classroom curricula can also be used to further deepen students’ racial literacy. Additionally, universities should forcefully identify antiracist values as a core feature of their institution’s identity.
  • Anti-discrimination and harassment policies: Develop clear policies and procedures that outline consequences for discriminatory treatment on the basis of race, ethnicity, and other social identities. These policies provide accountability that is critical for combating hostile racial climates.

Read more in Bedelia Nicola Richards, “Faculty Assessments as Tools of Oppression: A Black Woman’s Reflections on (Colorblind) Racism in the Academy” in Intersectionality and Higher Education: Identity and Inequality on College Campuses, edited by W. Carson Byrd, Sarah Ovink, and Rachelle J. Brunn-Bevel (Rutgers University Press, 2019).

Solidarity for Racial Justice and Non-violence

As a group of students, staff, and faculty at the University of Utah College of Social Work, we join our voices with those of other schools, agencies, and communities against recent acts of racism and violence in Ferguson, Cleveland, New York, Phoenix, Saratoga Springs (UT) and elsewhere. We recognize our varying experiences with and participation in systems of power and privilege, oppression and discrimination, which make this conversation complex, risky, and uncertain.

utahswWe recognize that racial biases are often unconscious, and that even well-intentioned individuals may lack awareness of our own biases. Thus, this conversation and related actions are necessary aspects of raising our consciousness with respect to racism, systemic violence, and injustice, and taking steps toward healing in our communities and our nation. We are compelled to speak out for justice by our personal convictions and our professional values and ethics; to remain silent in the face of injustice is a privilege that we reject as collusion.

In 2009, African Americans comprised 13% of the U.S. population but 42% of inmates on death row. These national patterns are often reflected in Utah, as well. In Salt Lake City, the rate of arrest for black residents is more than four times that of non-black residents. Minority youth in Utah are significantly more likely than non-minority youth to have aggravated sanctions and longer sentences, while non-minority youth were more likely to have mitigating sanctions applied to their cases, leading to shorter sentences.

Media portrayal of recent events of racism and violence has contributed to a polarization of this issue in which those standing in solidarity with victims of violence are deemed to be anti-law enforcement. We reject this polarizing view of these events, and openly recognize that we are all socialized and implicated within a larger system of racism in our country. Aspects of structural and institutional racism occur within law enforcement, as well as within other professions and the social, political, and economic institutions in the U.S.

We unite as students, staff, and faculty to stand in solidarity with those already working toward racial justice through continued action to reduce racism and violence. Specifically, we seek to examine and change, where needed, the work that we do in our profession and education. We ask that the College of Social Work discuss and develop the following actions:

• Promote and implement College-wide activities that center social justice and equality in the culture and educational aims of the CSW.

• Develop and support dialogue between law enforcement, the criminal justice system, service providers and communities to help heal the wounds of violence and injustice, and to build bridges among participants.

• Collaborate with campus units, local agencies, colleges, and communities on anti-racism and social justice work.

• Encourage the BSW and MSW Program Advisory Committees to develop action plans to address current pressing social justice issues in classroom discussions in a timely fashion.

• Establish regular professional development for campus and field faculty with regard to implementing critical dialogue about privilege, power, oppression and racism.

• Establish an Anti-Racism Task Force within the College of Social Work.

We have grave concerns about observed and documented patterns of racial violence by law enforcement agents across the U.S., historically and currently. As Rev. Meg Riley has noted, “We are buried up to our necks in a history of violence and brutality against people of color.” We know that communities of color and other minority groups are disproportionately stopped and arrested by law enforcement, and prosecuted and incarcerated by the criminal justice system. Across this country we have witnessed too many incidents in which some law-enforcement agents have harassed, beaten, choked, and/or shot civilians – particularly black men – and it has been done with impunity.

As a school of social work, we are professionally mandated to center social justice and anti-oppressive practice for the improvement of human and social well-being. We join colleagues at Smith College School for Social Work in listening deeply and compassionately to the pain, grief, anger, fear and loss in families and communities struggling with these events. We join Portland State School of Social Work and others in continuing to transform our professional work into efforts that promote socially just, anti-racist services, programs, policies, and change.

Media Contact

Dr. Christina Gringeri | Ph:  801-581-4864 | christina.gringeri@socwk.utah.edu

University of Utah College of Social Work

Press Release: Social Work Helper Magazine was not involved in the creation of this content.

White Coats for Black Lives Launch National Organization on MLK Day

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Upon matriculating in medical school, students recite the Hippocratic Oath, declaring their commitment to promoting the health and well-being of their communities. On December 10, 2014, students from over 80 medical schools across the United States acted in the spirit of that oath as we participated in a “die in” to protest racism and police brutality. In our action, we called attention to grim facts about the public health consequences of racism, acknowledged the complicity of the medical profession in sustaining racial inequality, and challenged a system of medical care that denies necessary treatment to patients unable to pay for it, disproportionately patients of color.

In celebration of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we announce the founding of a national medical student organization, White Coats for Black Lives. This organization brings together medical students from across the country to pursue three primary goals:

  1. To eliminate racism as a public health hazard.
    Racism has a devastating impact on the health and well-being of people of color. Tremendous disparities in housing, education, and job opportunities cut short the average Black life by four years. Physicians, physician organizations, and medical institutions must therefore publicly recognize and fight against the significant adverse effects of racism on public health. We additionally advocate for increased funding and promotion of research on the health effects of racism.
  2. To end racial discrimination in medical care.
    We recognize that insurance status serves in our healthcare system as a “colorblind” means of racial discrimination. While it is illegal to turn patients away from a hospital or practice because of their race, patients across the country are frequently denied care because they have public insurance or lack health insurance. We support the creation of a single payer national health insurance system that would give all Americans equal access to the healthcare they need. Such a system would create a payment structure that reflects the fact that “Black lives matter.” Moreover, ample evidence suggests that patients of color receive inferior care even when they are able to see a doctor or nurse; we therefore advocate for the allocation of funding for research on unconscious bias and racism in the delivery of medical care.
  3. To create a physician workforce engaged with the struggle for racial justice.
    Adequately addressing the health effects of racism within and outside of medicine requires a physician workforce that fully reflects our nation’s diversity. Black people currently comprise only 4% of the physician workforce, despite making up 13% of the national (and patient) population; Latino and Native American students are similarly underrepresented. We call on medical schools to improve the recruitment and support of Black, Latino, and Native American medical students and faculty, and to bring their representation in medical schools in line with national demographics. We further call for the creation of national medical school curricular standards that include information about the history of racism in medicine, unconscious racial bias in medical decision making, and strategies for dismantling structural racism.

In founding White Coats for Black Lives, we hope to add our voices to the growing national movement demanding accountability, justice, and an end to racism, and we seek to honor our profession’s pledge to counter those forces that might unduly or unjustly cut short the lives of our fellow human beings.

Media Contact

White Coats for Black Lives National Steering Committee |  whitecoats4blacklives@gmail.com

Press Release: Social Work Helper Magazine was not involved in the creation of this content.

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